Harvest in the sunshine
Students learn about taro farming
by Dennis Fujimoto – The Garden Island
HANAPEPE — Taro fields eat rubbah slippahs.
But they also give back, as a student from the seventh-grade class at Chiefess Kamakahelei Middle School learned after he found a 1908 dime while getting some hands-on experience harvesting taro.
That was not part of the lesson plan, but neither was hiking the “couple hundred yards” to the Hashimoto farm because the bus couldn’t traverse the narrow road leading to the taro farm tucked away in Hanapepe Valley.
“This is part of an inter-disciplinary study,” Fred Sasan, one of the teacher chaperones, said yesterday.
“We do this again tomorrow. All told, there are about 140 students in the seventh grade, and they’ll rotate in a group system.”
Kahele Keawe, another seventh-grade teacher, said the students have been studying various areas in social studies, science, agriculture, and math in class. The field trip allowed them to put those studies into practice.
“We’ve had the students working with water rights in social studies,” Sasan said. “Now they get to see how water rights play out in the taro farm. We’ve been studying about invasive species, now they get to weed the taro patch and see how the invasive species affects the environment.”
Clyde Hashimoto, a teacher at Kalaheo School, has had students visit his family’s taro fields in the past.
“We’ve had the elementary school students here, and the charter schools come to visit, too,” he said. “But this is the first time we’ve had the students from middle schools come.”
Hashimoto, who earned the Milken award for teachers because of his work with students in the family’s taro field, said he will be working with the students over two days to accommodate the program.
During their visit that started with the hike past family farms where barking dogs greeted the group of students, the seventh-graders were broken down into teams, devoting their time to harvesting taro, measuring out lo‘i, and weeding taro patches.
Hashimoto prefaced the outing with a briefing on taro, the yields from the fields, and an overview of taro culture as well as pointing out the various parts of a mature taro plant.
Squeals emanated from the group as the soft mud squished between toes, and young hands discovered things in the muck that had not been discussed in class.
But the group was diligent in its efforts as one team learned that you don’t hold the rule while it’s being played out.
Central to the learning experience is the Hanapepe ahupua‘a with an emphasis on the water-rights history and its impact on taro farming.
“Go clean in the ditch,” Hashimoto told the students who were finishing up a shift in harvesting.
That ditch is the focal point of the Hashimoto’s farm which spans about four acres in the valley.
“The water comes from the Hanapepe River,” Hashimoto said.
Stemming outward from the main irrigation ditch, smaller culverts transport the water to the lo‘i so the taro can grow.
“I saw shrimp in there,” one student said, being corrected that what he saw was a prawn, an introduced species, although Hashimoto said the Hawaiian opa‘e also live in the irrigation waterway.
Sasan quizzed the students about the names of the various weeds they encountered while pulling the taro, and kept on task as the students were quick with answers.
Keawe said the outing is also part of service learning.
“In helping weed the lo‘i, that’s that much less work the farmer needs to do, so the students learn that it’s also about giving back,” Keawe said.
As the students made their way to the irrigation ditch to clean up, Sasan tossed them several tangerines that he found growing on trees that formed borders between the fields.
“It’s overripe,” Sasan laughed. “But nothing can beat a snack straight from the tree.”
He added that the second part of the field trip involved helping at the Salt Pond beds, but because the beds are flooded right now, they’ve had to alter those plans.
Sasan, whose family maintains a banana farm in Lihu‘e, is contemplating doing a similar experience with students in the banana fields so they can better understand what is involved in getting a hand of banana.
“This is really good for the students,” he said. “For some of them, this is probably going to be the only time in their life they actually get to harvest something.”